E-health projects sick without govt aid

But experts say electronic records on track in NSW, VIC.

Health professionals have slammed Australian governments for a lacklustre investment in e-health, claiming the nation has slipped behind many countries in the field because of weak funding and unresponsive departments.

Experts said a $218 million national fund allocation to the National E-Health Transition Authority (NEHTA) over three years to June 2012 should be increased to bolster what they say is an ailing e-health industry. The grants will be used for the SNOMED Clinical Terminology project, a national e-health identification system for individuals and providers, and to develop a user-authentication scheme for the health care sector.

Speaking at an e-health summit in Sydney last week, University of NSW Professor Branko Cellar said government health departments have ignored workable e-health technologies in favour of existing solutions to mitigate risk and accountability.

“A recent premier came to visit and was impressed by [telehealth] technology but even though [he] may want it, no one in the health department was incentivised to take it on because their seats are more carefully retained if they do more of the same — they see disruptive technology as too risky,” Cellar said.

“Australia was a world leader but now we need to start catching up with the rest of the world… There is no policy for [telehealth] in Australia and the government has never ran a clear trial of the technology.”

Cellar, a long term advocate of remote care and head of the Biomedical Systems Laboratory at the university, said the potential for telehealth to reduce time spent in areas like chronic disease management, which itself occupies more than 75 percent of clinicians time, is “manna from heaven”.

However, he said implementation of the technology has stalled because of what he dubbed ineffective policy and trials that lack “proper health-economic outcomes”.

E-health technologies are inherently “disruptive”, according to Intel digital health group industry development manger Dr George Margelis. He cited an example of a new telehealth deployment in Hawaii that allows patients to receive treatment over a video link for about $50 less than the fee for face-to-face consultancy.

“I'll be honest; vendors are sometimes as much to blame for [e-health] challenges as policy makers; there needs to be a shift to [coalitions of] healthcare providers,” Margelis said, speaking of the problems inherent to the rapid take-up of technology amid slow policy development.

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